Have you ever re-read something and realized that you missed a lot of information the first time you read it? Maybe you missed an important detail or it just didn’t click the first time.
This has happened to me numerous times – with books I’ve read, movies I’ve watched, even songs I’ve listened to.
Take the Bible for example. I can read the same passage 150 times, yet, on the 151st time, something totally new practically jumps off the page.
Most recently, this happened when I read the story of the Prodigal Son.
Just now, some of you probably thought “Oh I know that story. I’ve read it a hundred times. I can just skim this post because I already know all about it.”
I thought that too. Stick with me.
Just so we’re all on the same page, here’s a quick recap of the story. The son asked his father for his inheritance early, and the father gave to him. The son went off and lived the high life … until the money ran out and he could no longer survive. He returned home, and even though he expected to be shamed, his father welcomed him and even threw a party to celebrate that the lost son had returned.
This particular time when I read it, I focused on the father’s reaction. I thought about what my reaction would have been. In all honesty, I probably would have reacted like he did. I’d be thrilled and relieved that my son had returned. I’d probably even have a party to celebrate and show my son that he was cared for and loved.
We’d probably all react that way.
But what if it wasn’t your son. What if it was a friend or neighbor?
Say a friend made a poor choice and that choice hurt a lot of people. If the friend realized that he/she had made a huge mistake, would you be as quick to forgive as the father was? Would you withhold judgment and extend grace instead? Would you find yourself silently wanting to see them suffer for the hurt they caused you?
Earlier this year I read a book titled Irresistible by Andy Stanley. It’s one of those books that I’ll need to re-read because there was so much in there I missed because I was too busy trying to wrap my head around what he was saying the first time!
In this book, he posed a question that he suggests we ask every day – multiple times.
I was so taken by this question that I wrote it on a notecard and taped it to my bathroom mirror. Do you do that too? I have all kinds of cards stuck to mine.
I’ve really tried to put asking this question into practice. Some days I’m better at it than others, but if loving God and loving others is what Jesus commanded me to do, then that’s what I need to do.
Even when it’s not convenient.
Even when my instinct is to pass judgement.
Even when my hurt is a consequence of their choice.
I do what love requires because Jesus does what love requires. It started with the cross and it continues as He forgives, extends undeserved grace, and accepts us as we are.
So back to reading something for the umpteenth time and something new jumping out.
I’ve always been aware that the father in the story represents our Heavenly Father and that He welcomes us with open arms no matter what we’ve done. The “aha” for me this time is that the father in the story reacts the way he does because it’s what love required of him. He wasn’t just acting as a parent who loves his child. He was acting as a person who knew what he had to do even if his instinct was to be thrilled to see his son again but then throttle the kid for squandering all the money.
He loved beyond passing judgement and saying I told you so. He loved beyond disappointment. He loved beyond the hurt.
When we model our Heavenly Father’s love, our need for justice doesn’t matter. We can let go of judgement and extend grace because we can trust that God will take care of those things. That’s not our job.
I don’t know what it looked like after the celebration. The Bible doesn’t tell us that. Did they have to rebuild trust? Probably. Were there important conversations to have? Certainly.
But love came first. The father stepped into the mess and loved despite of it.
That’s a lesson I need to take to heart right now. Maybe you do too.